By DERON SNYDER
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo must be a paper guy.
He’s trusting that Jonathan Papelbon’s addition will cover the Nationals’ bullpen deficiencies, but not rock the clubhouse or cut out Drew Storen’s heart.
Dealing with paper – the way a team looks when viewed as a list of names and statistics – is easy.
But that doesn’t factor messy emotions such as anger, envy and fear into the equation, which can add measures of volatility to a GM’s handiwork. Moves that harm a popular player’s standing, cause the clubhouse to take sides or upset the mix of personalities can shred the best-laid plan like a pair of sharp scissors.
That’s the risk Rizzo took in trading for Papelbon and giving him Storen’s job as closer.
It’s a risk worth taking.
Storen has a right to be upset, to feel betrayed and undermined. Give him a day or two to get over it. Then it’s time to live out the words Rizzo spoke after the trade was announced.
“That news is difficult to take,” Rizzo told reporters in Miami Tuesday night. “He took it like a pro, and he’s gonna be professional in the clubhouse and on the mound.”
The last time he was demoted, in 2013, Storen’s professionalism was unquestionable. But his performance stunk. Still reeling from losing the closer job to Rafael Soriano after blowing the lead in Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series, Storen had a 5.95 ERA when he was sent to the minors in July.
He has been rock-solid ever since, reclaiming the job from Soriano last September … only to relinquish another postseason lead the following month.
So no matter how good Storen looks during the regular season, trepidation arrives when the calendar flips to October. He brought that on himself and has to live with it until he kills it.
By DERON SNYDER
Sportscaster Colin Cowherd didn’t mix just apples and oranges last week in his comments about baseball and Dominicans.
He threw in nuts, too, which is how he sounded on what ultimately were his final shows for ESPN Radio.
Cowherd’s ill-fated remarks began with a perfectly fine question about front-office executives’ suitability to take over as managers, as we saw when Miami Marlins general manager Dan Jennings moved to the dugout in May. The merits of giving the wheel to someone like Jennings – whose only coaching experience was more than 30 years ago at an Alabama high school – was debatable then and remains so today.
Miami, 16-22 at the time, has gone 25-36 under Jennings. But Cowherd doesn’t see any problem with the move.
“It’s baseball,” Cowherd said Thursday. “You don’t think a general manager can manage? Like it’s impossible? The game is too complex? I’ve never bought into that, ‘Baseball’s just too complex.’ Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.
“The Dominican Republic has not been known in my lifetime as having world-class academic abilities. A lot of those kids come from rough backgrounds and have not had opportunities academically that other kids from other countries have.”
“Baseball is like any sport,” he continued. “It’s mostly instincts. A sports writer who covers baseball could go up to Tony La Russa and have a real baseball argument, and Tony would listen and it would seem reasonable. There’s not a single NFL writer in the country who could diagram a play for Bill Belichick. You know, we get caught up in this whole ‘thinking-man’s game.’ Is it in the same family? Most people could do it. It’s not being a concert pianist.”
Just like that, Cowherd’s argument in favor of GMs-turned-skippers took an ugly, drastic turn. He careened off the road of sensibility and crashed into the mountainside of stereotypes. It was ignorant, unnecessary and irrelevant.
After waves of flak, Cowherd came back Friday and tried to defend his position with statistics on the Dominican Republic’s education system.
“I understand that when you mention a specific country, they get offended,” he said. “… But I have four reports in front of me … where there are discussions of major deficiencies in the education sector at all levels. … It wasn’t a shot at them. It was data.”
Here’s what Cowherd failed to understand: Inferior schools don’t equate to inferior intellect.
By DERON SNYDER
He captivated D.C. upon arrival.
Now the city is just held captive, incapable of escaping a hostage situation.
Robert Griffin III has shackled Washington’s team and its fans. The Stockholm syndrome is in full effect. There’s no genuine enthusiasm about the relationship and few are confident that the ordeal will end well.
But an emotional attachment and a level of dependence has formed. That generates hope and positive feelings toward RG3, alongside varying degrees of empathy and sympathy for his situation. Fans, teammates and officials might want to blame him the predicament, but not without also defending and identifying with him at times.
Warts and all, he’s “one of us” until he isn’t, and the team can’t succeed unless he does.
Outsiders view the situation differently. Unencumbered by feelings of kinship and loyalty, they consider solely what their eyes see, not what their hearts desire.
Like everyone in D.C., national onlookers were charmed when Griffin arrived. But as he steadily declined from dazzling rookie to discarded third-stringer, out-of-towners increasingly write him off as a terrorist to everyone but opposing defenses.
By DERON SNYDER
The queen and I recently switched our cable/internet service from Comcast to Verizon, disappointed with the former’s service but also enticed by the latter’s offer of a $400 gift card.
I made sure our new package included some premium movie channels such as HBO and Showtime, but was surprised to discover that a number of what-I-thought-were basic channels no longer appeared in our lineup. The two princesses howled that they no longer could fill up on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” re-runs.
One channel that remained in place – though much higher up the dial – was ESPN. Like old faithful, the Worldwide Leader in Sports has been part of my cable universe since I launched into bill-paying young adulthood.
Imagining a world without ESPN has been unfathomable. But it is has become a well-publicized possibility for others consumers, based on a slew of recent stories about cable TV’s cord-cutters and, worse, “cord-nevers.”
The terms refer to consumers who either have left or never signed up for coaxial in the first place. Instead, they resort to the internet for news and entertainment, with streaming options increasingly available on laptops and mobile devices. According to Variety, about 1.4 million households last year either canceled existing pay-TV services or were new households that didn’t sign up.
Additionally, the publication reports, the first quarter of 2015 was unprecedented: It marked the first time ever that cable dropped a net number of subscribers in the first three months of a year.
The trend could help explain a trio of high-profile departures from the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” which commands a far-and-away industry-high fee from cable companies (about $6.61 per customer) but is trending in the wrong direction. As my esteemed colleague Thom Loverro pointed out in his Monday column, the Wall Street Journal reports that ESPN has lost 3.2 million subscribers in a little over a year and Walt Disney Co. has ordered the subsidiary to cut costs.
By DERON SNYDER
I wish this was fiction. Or a joke. Or a bad dream.
Instead, it’s a disturbing signpost that indicates where we are in 2015.
Two decades and 21 Grand Slam titles after her pro debut – with 49 other singles titles, 700-plus matches won and $72.6 million in prize money to her credit – Serena Williams STILL faces criticism for breaching tennis’ stereotypical standards.
She’s too black, too strong. Too big, too loud. Too masculine, too volatile.
She’s simply too much for too many, who can’t get over the tone of her physique or skin, which are subliminally and intricately linked. The connection helps explain why muscular tennis stars such as Martina Navratilova and Samantha Stosur haven’t been scorned or shamed for their bodies nearly as much.
After instances over the years in which Williams has been referred to as a “gorilla” and “savage,” a recent New York Times article provides the latest example.
The reporter wrote about Williams’ “large biceps and mold-breaking muscular frame, which packs the power and athleticism that have dominated women’s tennis for year. Her rivals could try to emulate her physique, but most of them choose not to.”
The Women’s Tennis Association lists Williams at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. The eye test reveals that concerning fat, she has very little. But opponents could choose to be as big, strong, fast, nimble and limber, they’d just rather not?
By DERON SNYDER
In a poll of anonymous major leaguers in ESPN The Magazine’s 2015 baseball preview issue, Bryce Harper was selected as the game’s “most-overrated player” for the second consecutive year.
He ran away with the title, receiving 41 percent of the vote; Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was a distant second with 15 percent. The outcome was much more decisive than in 2014, when “only” 24 percent picked Harper as most-overrated.
Now, after producing an MVP-caliber first half and setting a National League record with nearly 14 million votes in All-Star Game fan balloting, perhaps he’ll drop to second or third in next year’s poll.
As far as Washington Nationals fans are concerned, Harper can remain on the list for the rest of his career. Being “hated” and “overrated” is working out pretty good.
Harper’s reputation as a polarizing figure appear to have taken a hit, though, based on the All-Star vote. But it’s for D.C. if he doesn’t become a warm-and-fuzzy who’s welcomed around the league.
The chip-on-the-shoulder fits better, giving him and the Nats a bit of much-appreciated nastiness.
A good portion of the animosity and, frankly, jealousy isn’t his fault. Part of it was inevitable from the moment a 16-year-old Harper appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which dubbed him “Baseball’s Chosen One” and called him “the most exciting prodigy since LeBron.”
Premature adulation is great for getting off to a bad start.
By DERON SNYDER
Indianapolis Pacers forward David West reportedly has agreed to a minimum-salary contract with the San Antonio Spurs, taking a $11 million pay cut in order to pursue a championship.
How noble of him. How principled. How virtuous.
How … selfish.
Look, you’re allowed to think about yourself before considering others. Plenty of folks are masters at that.
It’s just that West put himself first in a most unconventional way.
I don’t blame him for wanting an NBA title on his resume. What player doesn’t? Winning is the reason we keep score and every competitor’s ultimate goal. Finish with more points than your opponent, often enough and when it matters most, and you raise the trophy at the end. I get it.
But think about this: West didn’t leave a few measly dollars on the table for a shot at a ring. He opted out of the final year of his deal with Indy – worth $12.6 million according to Spotrac – for a contract that will pay him $1.4 million.
The decision borders on recklessness.
I’m not suggesting that pro athletes should chase every last dollar, regardless. But they shouldn’t be too foolhardy when mixing business (contracts) with pleasure (a game). The emotional tug of championship jewelry should be tempered by the cool assessment of dollars and sense.
Granted, the West family isn’t hurting financially. According to basketball-reference.com, he has earned about $88 million over the course of his 12-year career. By all accounts, he has been smart with his money, steering clear of the extravagant lifestyle that leaves others broke. Along with his wife and two children, they’re set for life.
But still, we’re talking about $11 MILLION.
By DERON SNYDER
What do big-market NBA teams such as the Lakers and Knicks have in common with newspapers and network TV?
They all have suffered irreparable harm due to the Internet and cable TV.
There was a time when CBS, NBC and ABC virtually had the airwaves to themselves, exhibiting the same dominance that major newspapers enjoyed in various cities. Independent stations and smaller papers could only dream of breaking the big boys’ stranglehold.
But everything has changed. Broadcast networks and ink-on-paper news organizations are struggling to survive and thrive against a phalanx of competitors who previously didn’t exist or didn’t stand a chance.
And the ripples have lapped onto NBA shores, where Los Angles and New York no longer enjoy automatic cachet based on location, location, location.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the biggest prize on the free-agent market, canceled his meeting with the Knicks, ruling them out before they made their pitch. He took two meetings with the Lakers, giving them a do-over after the first one went horribly wrong, but he chose little ol’ San Antonio in the end.
Extenuating circumstances help explain Aldridge’s decision. The Spurs are a model franchise, winners of five titles in Aldridge’s lifetime and two during his career. They have one of the league’s best coaches and best general managers. Throw in the fact that Aldridge is a native Texan, and perhaps the odds were against L.A. and New York, anyway.
However, none of those factors exist in the case of Greg Monroe. The Louisiana native and former Georgetown star who has spent his entire career with Detroit, just spurned the Knicks and Lakers for … the Bucks.
By DERON SNYDER
— “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments.” – Arthur Ashe
Tennis was our introduction to Arthur Ashe and he took over from there. He used the platform to become a civil rights activist, human rights champion and a model for black thinker-athletes.
The sport turned our attention on the native of Richmond, Va., and he forced us to consider more pressing matters, such as apartheid, HIV/AIDS and the barriers of poverty, privilege and racism.
But the tennis came first and he was atop the game in 1975, when he became the first African-American man to win Wimbledon.
“After 40 years, his legacy still lives on in one of the greatest ways,” Serena Williams told reporters at Wimbledon last week. “That was just an amazing match that he played against (Jimmy) Connors. … It’s been (important) for African Americans, not just in tennis, but in all sports, for breaking barriers.”
Ashe burst through the door at Wimbledon after doing likewise at the U.S. Open (1968) and Australian Open (1970). Unfortunately, no one has been able to follow him. Ashe remains as the only African-American man to win a Grand Slam event, one of the sport’s four major tournaments. In fact, only one other black man has accomplished the feat; France’s Yannick Noah won the French Open in 1983.
Ashe’s title match against Connors was a contrast in styles. Ashe was a UCLA graduate who served as second lieutenant in the Army. He carried himself as a gentleman with an officer’s bearing and was a professed lover of learning. Connors, the defending champion, was at the fore of tennis’ “showman” era. He basked in being a rebel, bragging that he never read books and showing no interest in etiquette.
There was saltiness between the two men. Ashe had questioned Connors’ patriotism because the latter skipped a U.S. Davis Cup match to participate in a lucrative exhibition earlier that year. Ashe rubbed it in by wearing his Davis Cup warm-up jacket with USA emblazoned on the front. He jumped out to a quick two-set lead and won the match in four sets, 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.
They shook hands at the net without saying a word. It was Ashe’s last appearance in a Grand Slam final.
“Unfortunately I never got to meet Arthur,” Roger Federer told reporters at Wimbledon last week. “But I’m aware what an influential and important person he was in our game, especially for many other people as well. He’s been a leader. I was very happy for him that he was able to win here and utilize his fame for so many great things.”
Continue reading …
By DERON SNYDER
Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:
*How anyone could be mad if Paul Pierce leaves.
The veteran forward can end his Hall-of-Fame career at home in Los Angles, with the coach he won an NBA title under. Even diehard Wizards fans have to see the storybook nature of that possibility. Hollywood and Doc Rivers are powerful lures. But the Clippers are in the more-rugged West and will be less formidable if DeAndre Jordan leaves.
Either way, “I called game” will make another wining call.
*Why Phil Mickleson can’t seem to stay inbounds.
A $3 million gambling debt isn’t a big deal if you make more than $40 million annually in endorsements plus your PGA Tour earnings. But when ESPN reports that $3 million is tied to a federal investigation of money laundering and illegal gambling – one year after the feds investigated you for insider trading – you might have a problem. Mickleson’s image is at stake.
Lefty needs to straighten up and fly right.
*How Mark Brunell knows RG3’s fate.
Plenty of us agree with the ESPN analyst’s opinion: Robert Griffin III “has gone backwards.” Going from Rookie of the Year to the bench is a clue. But Brunell went further Monday, asked if he thought RG3 was good enough to succeed again. “I do not,” Brunell said. “… Does he have the skill set? Yes. But we haven’t seen it in some time.”
Blame the unnecessary (and worthless) prediction on host Stephen A. Smith.
*Why Serena Williams’ slam attempt is so quiet.